Throughout the human lifespan, individuals form many relationships from parents, siblings, and friends through to romantic relationships and eventually relationships with their own children. Social media often portrays an idealized view of these relationships with soft-focus romantic shots with spouses or partners, or the ‘making memories’ hashtags that make family ties look so effortlessly perfect. 

The reality, of course, is different. Between the happy moments are some more difficult ones, and even more mundane events. There will always be some challenges and challenging relationships in people’s lives. Not all relationships are destined to succeed and there are certainly times when the best thing for a person to do is to end the relationship. However, difficulties do not necessarily mean the end is near. Often with some support, a relationship can get back on track to become stronger and more positive than ever. Among those who can offer support are mental health counselors who have had extensive training in the skills needed to improve relationships.

What do mental health counselors do?

Mental health counseling is a skilled role. Many people suffer from issues related to mental health in their lifetime and even a mild mental challenge can have a detrimental impact on life. Mental health counselors are among the professionals who can help. Using various methods of psychotherapy, they help patients find strategies to deal with challenges.

How to become a mental health counselor

Society’s understanding of mental health has come a long way in recent years with much being done to reduce the stigma associated with it. As a result, people are far more readily seeking help to overcome mental health issues and good mental health counselors are in high demand. For individuals interested in this worthwhile and rewarding career, it is well worth looking more closely at what is needed to qualify. Generally, to become licensed individuals will need to undertake a master’s degree in counseling. The programs typically include supervised field placements as well as courses covering the skills and knowledge needed for mental health counseling. Upon qualification there are many different areas that require mental health counselors, including relationship counseling. 

Courses can be studied in person at many universities, but for working professionals this is not always possible. High quality online courses from top universities can provide the same rigorous education but in a more flexible format, making them ideal for fitting study around the other commitments in life. Those who would like to learn more about mental health counseling courses, careers, and the responsibilities of mental health counselors, can start with the American International College (AIC). Their online programs in mental health counseling include master’s and doctorate degrees that allow their students to start a mental health counseling career and obtain licensure.

Improving relationships

Good relationships are important to mental health and so helping their patients improve their relationships is an important role for mental health counselors. Relationships and mental health counseling are both complex areas but there are some common issues that mental health counselors can frequently help with and different effective strategies that they can use to help their patients build positive, respectful relationships.


Poor communication or the complete lack of it is a common reason for problems in a relationship. It can result in misunderstandings and misaligned expectations which in turn lead to frustration, resentment, and conflict. Mental health counselors can teach their clients several strategies to resolve their communication issues.

Effective expression

Effective expression helps individuals communicate their needs, expressing their emotions and thoughts clearly and constructively so that the other person in the relationship can easily understand them. Through finding ways to articulate their desire and concerns, the client can feel more valued in the relationship and problems can be more easily addressed before they become serious.

Active listening

In relationships, it is all too common to only listen only when it is necessary, which can lead to a failure to understand each other. When counselors teach active listening, they will come to genuinely hear and understand the other’s perspective without negative judgment. This increases empathy and reduces the chance of misunderstandings leading to resentment and frustration.

Non-verbal communication

Tone of voice and body language can convey information too. A mental health counselor can help their clients identify non-verbal cues, noticing when they happen and understanding what they convey. This allows them to be proactive in seeking further information to identify and resolve a problem. 

Through improved communication, mental health counselors are often empowering their clients to resolve their own problems both at the present time and in the future. This helps to keep relationships positive even at difficult times.

Conflict resolution

Conflicts can arise easily in relationships. Often, they are minor disagreements which can either be resolved or both parties ‘agree to disagree’ and move on. However, sometimes there can be conflicts that are more serious where both parties struggle to find a resolution. A mental health counselor can help find strategies that can resolve conflicts to both party’s satisfaction.

Start right

Before any discussion on the conflict should take place, counselors establish the rules for how the conflict should be resolved. Both parties must agree on the definition of what the problem is and keep the discussion focused on it, as too often resolving one conflict simply becomes a chance to air other grievances.

Constructive conflict resolution

Constructive conflict resolution helps identify ways of resolving conflicts that are both healthy and productive. This enables them to resolve the current conflict and also any future conflicts more easily. Strategies can include identifying the triggers for conflict, so they can be avoided, using ‘I’ statements so that each point of view is easy to identify, avoiding assigning blame, and looking for ways to compromise.

Avoiding escalation

The process of conflict can follow a familiar pattern. What starts out as a small issue escalates into something much bigger and consequently much harder to resolve. A mental health counselor can teach two individuals to identify the early signs of conflict, allowing them to face it and diffuse it before it becomes a serious problem. ‘Time out’ can be a useful strategy if a conflict appears to be escalating, allowing both parties to calm down and return to resolving the conflict once they are in a more constructive frame of mind.

Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries is important in a relationship and if both parties know what they are, this can help prevent resentment, feelings of neglect, and arguments. By contrast, a relationship where both parties agree on healthy boundaries is set up for success. 

A safe space

Mental health counseling can help create a space safe for both individuals to discuss their boundaries, helping them to reach a place of understanding and acceptance as well as ensuring that those boundaries are reasonable and healthy. They can also help both parties to recognize any hindrances to setting healthy boundaries. Often, the failure to understand each other’s boundaries is simply a failure of effective communication. Improving the communication between the parties, using the techniques above, can help both sides understand the view of the other.

Embracing and healing from the past

When starting a new relationship, both parties bring the weight of their history with them. For example, someone who has experienced infidelity in a past relationship may struggle to trust their new partner. The new partner may find it difficult to understand why they are not trusted for something that they didn’t do. Finding a way of understanding each other, and each other’s past, is imperative to moving forward in a positive direction.

Emotional healing

An individual who has experienced past trauma could benefit from individual mental health counseling to help them unpick what happened. Mental health counseling sessions can provide a safe space for the individual to explore what happened and the impact it has had on them. Through processing these feelings, the individual can reach a place of emotional healing that will enable them to take a healthy approach to their new relationship without the issues of a previous one.

Unhealthy patterns

Unresolved trauma can lead to repeating the same mistakes in a new relationship. Jealousy, for example, may have destroyed several relationships because of infidelity in the past. A mental health counselor can help the individual identify the unhealthy patterns they develop in their relationships and allow them to build positive habits that will stand them in good stead for the future.


Intimacy, both physical and emotional, is often an intrinsic part of romantic relationships. Lack of it can leave one partner feeling neglected. However, there can be many reasons for loss of intimacy that have nothing to do with the other partner. Ill health or aging can lead to a disinclination for intimacy, while big lifestyle changes such as a demanding new job or starting a family can leave one or both parties with far less time or energy for their partner. Mental health counselors can help both parties explore the issues around intimacy and find a way to resolve them without either party feeling neglected or pressured.

A neutral environment

One of the most valuable aspects of mental health counseling is the safe space it provides for both partners to talk about what is going on in their lives without judgment. In this environment, many issues such as unresolved conflict, poor communication and past trauma can be aired and resolved with the help of the counselor.

Emotional intimacy

At times when physical intimacy can seem too difficult, such as following the birth of a child, lack of sex drive during menopause, or male impotency, emotional intimacy can come to the fore, helping to keep the couple connected until they are ready to explore the physical side once again. The counselor can use empathy-building exercises to help the couple understand each other. They can also help the couple learn each other’s love language. If a relationship has seemingly relied on sexual intimacy, learning other ways their partner might show affection such as with gifts can help.

Intimacy blocks

It is not always obvious why physical and/or emotional intimacy has faltered. But in discussions with a mental health counselor, the couple can work out what these are. The counselor can then guide the couple through the healing process with the aim of removing the intimacy blocks and building a deeper connection.

Rebuild trust

Lack of trust can frequently be a barrier to intimacy. Infidelity or dishonesty of any kind can seriously damage trust in a relationship and in turn, block intimacy. While these events can be relationship ending, many others decide to try to heal the relationship. The neutral, non-judgmental space of mental health counseling can be the ideal environment to work through those issues, helping the couple see if it is right to continue the relationship and if so, build it stronger than before.

Shared goals

Another way a couple can build a deeper connection is through their future plans, both as individuals with the other’s support and as a couple. A mental health counselor can help identify those goals. With an aligned vision for the future, the couple will have built deeper bonds which in turn can help re-establish emotional and physical intimacy.

Building relationship success

Through the problems discussed, the mental health counselor can find different strategies to help build relationship success. A wish to help others is what motivates many to embark on a mental health counseling career and for those that share this motivation, this is a career option that is well worth considering.